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Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova

Photo by NSF/
Stephen Voss

Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation


Before the Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum 2014
Opening Plenary Panel
"Science and Technology for the Future of Humankind"
Kyoto International Conference Center, Japan
October 5, 2014

Chairman Omi, Distinguished Colleagues and Honored Guests:

It is with great humility that I address this esteemed gathering; I am delighted to represent the U.S. National Science Foundation at the STS Opening Session on "Science & Technology for the Future of Humankind."

I have had the good fortune to attend several STS Forums in the past, as president of Purdue University and as chancellor of the University of California, Riverside. In 2010, I had the honor of attending the Nobel Prize ceremony of Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi, a longtime Purdue professor and pioneering chemist. He was awarded a Nobel for his innovative work developing metal-based reactions.

Standing before this forum today, I am reminded of his remarks in Stockholm:

He said, "The final reward for any researcher is to see his or her lifetime of work extend beyond academia and laboratories, into the mainstream of our global society where it can breathe hope into the world."

This forum is an exciting new model for doing just that. It is evidence that science can provide avenues for understanding and enlightenment, bringing people from diverse countries and cultures closer together to share experiences and lessons learned. I've found the opportunity to engage with colleagues from developing countries an especially valuable part of the STS Forum. All U.S. participants look forward to working with the nations represented here to strengthen science globally and address shared challenges.

The forum is one of those rare initiatives that started out with a great idea--and keeps getting better each year. For the first time, NSF has sponsored future leaders to be here, and we welcome you, our young leaders, to share your insights.

For more than six decades, National Science Foundation's mission has been to further the progress of science. We support pioneering research across all fields of science and engineering, including:

  • physics, astronomy, mathematics and material sciences;
  • ocean, Earth, planetary and polar sciences;
  • ecological and environmental sciences;
  • engineering;
  • biological sciences, including plant science and neuroscience;
  • social, behavioral and economic sciences;
  • education and human resources, including public outreach.

NSF has a long history of international collaboration. We've had an office in Tokyo since 1960, the first office we established outside the U.S.

We collaborate with Japanese scientists across a broad range of science and engineering topics, including nanotechnology, risk and resilience, and research ethics.

I could point to any number of major international partnerships that NSF has funded. But let me highlight one substantial project near and dear to my heart as an astronomer. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array--or ALMA--radio telescope in Chile has received more than $1 billion in investments from a broad international coalition led by NSF and including Chile, Japan, Europe and North America.

ALMA will open an exciting new window into our universe and provide a testing ground for theories of star birth and stellar evolution, and galaxy formation. It will help us better understand our cosmic origins and make possible a search for small planets around hundreds of nearby stars.

ALMA is an excellent example of NSF's and Japan's commitment to fundamental research and our pursuit of scientific discovery, our quest to know more about our own origins and the mysteries of the universe.

NSF also has a significant interest in supporting breakthrough innovations. We were the first U.S. federal agency to start a small business innovation research program and a small business technology transfer program. The economic and industrial impact of these programs--which incentivize and enable startups and small businesses to undertake R&D with high technical risk and high commercial reward--has been enormous.

In the late 1980s, NSF created the Engineering Research Centers (ERC) program, which integrates engineering research and education with technological innovation to produce graduates who will be creative innovators in a globally competitive economy. The ERCs program has had a significant impact on innovation in the U.S., especially in the area of advanced manufacturing.

And our more recent Innovation Corps program--or "I-Corps"--enables young graduate researchers to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from NSF-funded research. I-Corps uses public-private partnerships to create a national ecosystem for innovation that couples scientific discovery with technology development and societal needs. It is a "fast track" from innovation to market.

These are just some of the ways we bring the results of basic research into the broader scientific and engineering community. NSF's commitment to innovation is an outgrowth of our core obligation to promote scientific research, infrastructure, and education. We catalyze innovation by investing in people with passion and ideas with promise.

NSF's current priorities include broadening participation and communicating widely the impact of our scientific discoveries. I would like to make a plea in this setting for supporting aggressive initiatives to give all citizens--regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or religion--the opportunity to participate in the scientific enterprise.

Despite recent gains, women in the U.S. remain underrepresented in many areas of science and engineering. I know Prime Minister Abe has made a personal commitment to increasing the number of women in Japan's management ranks. A few days ago, he hosted a forum on "Women's Power as the Source of Growth." I commend the Prime Minister for his leadership in this area.

And, finally, as a committed partner in the global community of scientific research, NSF believes it is imperative that all of us promote the benefits that investing in research and discovery yield to everyone on the planet.

We need to engage the public to help improve understanding of the value of basic research and why our projects are worthy of investment. I hope that the next decade becomes the decade of the citizen scientist.

The goal is a world in which all citizens believe that basic research offers us the keys to unlocking the secrets to mysteries that have challenged humanity since the beginning of time and the means to address the global challenges that face us.

I look forward to hearing your views about how our nations can work together to advance this goal. Thank you.